Twenty two Poly Ramblers turned up for the fourth and final part of the Thames Estuary Path – or so they thought! It was a grey, cold day and, although the sky got quite dark, rain did not materialise. And neither did the mud I experienced in the first field when I did the recce. After successfully counting participants, we were soon out of Pitsea and walking in fields along the railway. We quickly arrived at St Margaret’s Church, Bowers Gifford, an English Heritage historic Grade 2 listed building which dates back to Saxon times and is recorded in the Domesday Book commissioned by William I in 1085. It is a rare example of a working ‘marsh located’ church. Leaving the church, we continued through the RSPB Bowers Marsh Reserve and reached Benfleet Creek after walking under the A130. We walked on the sea wall accompanied by the noise of motorbikes riding on a track alongside the footpath. We arrived at Benfleet, our lunch stop. Half the group went to the Hoy and Helmet pub to eat in the warmth. The other half had a picnic (watching an avocet, a curlew and other birds we could not identify) and a drink at quirky Barge Gladys.
We all reunited after lunch and then entered Hadleigh Country Park following Benfleet Creek – which separates the mainland from Canvey Island – along marshes. We could see the ruins of Hadley Castle in the distance. The castle was begun around 1215 by Hubert de Burgh but extensively refortified by Edward III during the Hundred Years War. We continued along the sea wall parallel to Two Tree Island, a nature reserve, and Leigh Marsh before reaching Old Leigh, passing shellfish shacks where a few people stopped to make some purchases for dinner. We walked along the harbour and followed pretty Old Leigh High Street then continued along the busy sea wall to reach Chalkwell station with only 10 minutes wait for the train. Someone mentioned her surprise that the walk did not end in Southend. When I checked the information about the walk, it said the walk is from Tilbury Town to Southend – something that I had forgotten since we started the walk over a year ago. I will remedy this for the purists with another walk in late autumn.
Dominique. Photos by Stuart, Jo and Hilary